Westborough Center Pastimes – May 21, 2021

The Search for Herbert O. Smith: A Memorial Day Remembrance

Several months ago, I received an e-mail from a Westborough resident and avid reader of the Westborough Center Pastimes newsletter:

Dear Dr Vaver,

I so very much enjoy all your essays. You might already be aware of this, but a Westborough resident, Herbert Smith, died at Andersonville. He is buried at Pine Grove. Not sure if anything might be written about Westborough during the Civil War. Perhaps to coincide with Memorial Day?

I look forward to your next piece.

Thank you


Janet included the above image of a gravestone, which most likely prompted her to write her e-mail to me.

I thanked her and filed her e-mail away along with a note to revisit it around Memorial Day. That day has finally arrived.


When people introduce me to others and want to include what I do as a profession, they often mistakenly call me “Westborough’s Town Historian” or “the Local Historian who works at the library.” I think the confusion gets caught up in the fact that Westborough’s interest in its own history is so deep that we have lots of organizations in town with similar sounding names and lots of people working at them: the Westborough Historical Society, the Westborough Historical Commission, the Westborough Center for History and Culture. It’s all admittedly confusing. The fact is that we are surrounded by so much history in Westborough that the organizational waters that chronicle it are a bit muddy. What a great problem for a town to have!

But in my capacity at the library, I am a librarian, not an historian. Sure, I consider myself to be a cultural historian as well as a librarian by training, but I have not devoted as much time to researching Westborough history in as much depth as other true town historians have—such as Kristina Nilson Allen, Phil Kittredge, Glenn Parker, or Leslie Leslie. My job as the local history librarian is to point people to the resources that can help them research and learn about Westborough and its history, and in doing so I certainly learn a lot about Westborough history along the way. That’s what makes my job so fun! And that’s why I love  receiving e-mails with questions like the one Janet sent me.


So who is Herbert O. Smith?

After consulting histories about American Civil War regiments from Massachusetts, military and genealogical databases, books about Westborough history, historical Westborough newspapers, and more, here’s what I could find.

Herbert O. Smith was born in Gloucester, MA on July 23, 1837 (other records claim 1838 as his birth date or are even less precise). At the time of his enlistment on March 31, 1864, he is described as having a light complexion, gray eyes, and brown hair and stood 5 ft, 11 inches tall. He was unmarried and a farmer by profession. Smith was mustered on April 6, 1864 in Company K of the 57th Infantry, the company where most Westborough enlistments ended up during the war.

Smith’s time in the army did not last long. He was wounded in the face at the battle of Wilderness, VA on May 6, 1864 and then was taken prisoner at North Anna on May 24, 1864 and sent to the notorious Andersonville Prison in Georgia. Over the 14 months while the prison was in operation, Andersonville held 45,000 Union prisoners, of which nearly 13,000 died of “disease, poor sanitation, malnutrition, overcrowding, or exposure.”

Smith wasn’t the only Westborough soldier to experience the horrors of Andersonville. Others included Minot C. Adams, William H. Blake, Charles S. Carter, Charles M. Fay, Francis E. Kemp, Irving E. Walker, and possibly John Copeland. There may have been others.

Herbert O. Smith died in the Andersonville Prison of chronic diarrhea on August 27, 28, or 29 (depending on the source) in 1864. He was either 26 or 27 years old at the time. He is not, however, buried in Westborough, but lies instead in a mass burial trench in the Andersonville National Cemetery in Section E, Site 7158, along with William H. Blake, who is in Section H, Site 10753.

Map of the Andersonville National Cemetery.

In 1868, shortly after the war ended, Westborough arranged to erect a monument with the names of “soldiers from this town, who fell in the late war.” All of the names of the soldiers that I list in this article–with the exception of Charles M. Fay (more on him in the next newsletter)–appear on this monument, which to this day stands behind the fountain in the downtown cemetery on West Main Street. Whether or not you are able to attend this year’s Memorial Day ceremonies, take some time over the next week or so to visit the monument, read the soldier’s names, and think about how they willingly sacrificed themselves for our country.

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian

The Saturday Evening Chronotype, April 25, 1868, p. 3.

Do you have a question about Westborough history? Do you want to experience the thrill of the discovery process as you piece together nuggets of information that reveal the history of a person, place, or thing? Then stop by the Westborough Center or drop me an e-mail just like Janet did at avaver@cwmars.org.  

Suggested Reading:

And keep reading this newsletter to learn even more about the Andersonville Prison . . .

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Ken Gloss

Westborough Historical Society/Westborough Public Library Virtual Presentation by Rare Book Specialist Ken Gloss

Kenneth Gloss, proprietor of the internationally known Brattle Book Shop in Boston’s Downtown Crossing section, will present “The Adventure of Book Collecting” via Zoom on Monday, May 24, 7:00 pm, for the Westborough Historical Society and Westborough Public Library, Westborough, MA. Ken will discuss the value of old and rare books.

Ken, a rare book specialist and appraiser who is frequently seen on national TV, will talk in part about the history of his historic bookshop (www.brattlebookshop.com/about), which goes back to circa 1825. He is a second-generation owner.

Ken will talk about and show some of his favorite finds and describe some of the joys of the “hunt,” as well as explain what makes a book go up in value. He has many fascinating anecdotes to share as well as guidelines for what to look for when starting a collection. There is also a Q&A session at the conclusion of his talk. Following the talk and question-and-answer session, Ken will offer free verbal appraisals of books.

Participants must register in advance at https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUofu2rqzguGNAS0be1515oAklELeV3y5be.

Those who wish to have materials appraised should submit photos with (if available) a brief description of each item plus a mobile contact number before Friday, May 21, to info@brattlebookshop.com.  During the program, Mr. Gloss will select items to appraise that illustrate important characteristics and will appraise all others privately.

This program is co-sponsored by both the Westborough Historical Society and the Westborough Public Library’s Westborough Center for History and Culture.

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Books donated to soldiers, 1941 (Westborough Public Library)

Book Donation Day and Friends Book Sale

Need to make room for the new collection of books you will be inspired to create from attending Ken Gloss’s lecture? The Friends of the Westborough Public Library will be holding a Book Donation Day on Friday, May 21 from 10-2 at the Parkman Street entrance.

Going forward, the Friends will not have “ongoing” book donations but will be holding periodic Donation Days a couple weeks in advance of their book sales.

Upcoming book sales will be on the second Saturday of each month from 10-3 on the lawn in front of the library.

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Detail from: George Carleton, Map of Andersonville, Sumter Co., Georgia (1865).

Found! The Andersonville Prison Map

From the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center at the Boston Public Library:

Retired National Park Service Archeologist Guy Prentice recently discovered the Leventhal Map & Education Center’s copy of George W. Carleton’s 1865 map of the Andersonville prison, a notorious Confederate camp where thousands of Union prisoners of war died. Dr. Prentice has spent multiple field seasons doing archeology at Andersonville National Historic Site, and coauthored numerous reports on the archeology of the site over more than three decades.

In a guest article, Prentice describes how locating this map in our collections helped to unlock a mystery about the trial of one of the most controversial figures in Civil War history. Read the full account of his search for the Civil war map here.

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Did you enjoy reading this Westborough Local History Pastimes newsletter? Then subscribe by e-mail and have the newsletter and other notices from the Westborough Center for History and Culture at the Westborough Public Library delivered directly to your e-mail inbox: https://www.westboroughcenter.org/subscribe-to-updates/.

Westborough Center Pastimes – May 7, 2021

A bridled and blinkered horse standing hitched to its cart, by Henry Walter, 22 January 1822. (Wellcome Library, London, http://wellcomeimages.org)

Thought Experiment

Let’s perform a thought experiment.*

The year is 1570. We meet a delivery man resting on the side of the road and ask him some questions about his job and his life. We discover that he makes his deliveries—maybe some apples grown by a farmer outside a nearby town—using a horse-drawn cart combined with quite a bit of walking. When he cooks his dinner, he does so over a fire. And when he needs to relieve himself, he uses a hole in the ground.

Now, after making so many deliveries, our resting delivery man falls asleep and does not wake up until two hundred years later in 1770. What is his life like now? Well, he still makes his delivery of locally grown apples using a horse-drawn cart and walks a lot. He still cooks his dinner over a fire. And he still relieves himself in a hole in the ground.

Hervey A Gilmore – ca. 1880 (Westborough Public Library)

The same grind ends up with similar results: he falls asleep again for another one hundred years and wakes up in 1870. Now what is his life like? Well, it’s pretty much the same. He still uses a horse-drawn cart to deliver his locally grown apples. He still walks a lot. He continues to cook his meals over a fire. And he still relieves himself in a hole in the ground.

Our delivery man falls asleep once more, but this time, because he has had so much sleep he wakes up in 1940, only seventy years later. Now what is his life like? Well, he no longer makes his deliveries using a horse and cart, but does so with a truck run by an internal combustion engine. He delivers goods from all over the world, and those goods have been brought to him for distribution by airplanes, boats, railroads, and other modes of transportation. His deliveries are probably coordinated by telephone. Both he and the people who buy his goods now cook their food in kitchens equipped with ovens, stoves, and other appliances that make food preparation easier. And houses now include indoor plumbing, so our delivery man no longer has to use a hole in the ground.

And we haven’t even gotten to his trip to New York City where he encounters buildings that are seventy to a hundred stories tall, including the Empire State Building.

The profound changes that I just described all came about from the Industrial Revolution. Today, we are experiencing even more social change and disruption due to digital technology and increased globalization. What happens if our delivery driver fell asleep yet again in 1940 and woke up today?

Our delivery man would most likely wake up to find himself being a UPS or Amazon delivery driver—and he now has female colleagues! His deliveries are governed by complex supply chains, which are created and run by digital technology. And these supply chains are global, which is why I can order a Norwegian scarf from Norway for my wife for Christmas and have it delivered to my door within two days. Whereas dominant work modes were still physical in 1940, now they are mental. Communication is practically seamless, so people can live in different parts of the world and continue to communicate with people at “home.” Even more, think how fast we were able to adapt this communication system to allow us to work from home once the pandemic hit! It turns out that many of us are no longer even necessarily tied to a specific workplace anymore.

And we haven’t even got to how social media and our lives on the Internet have disrupted the way we interact with one another.

Change is all around us and now seems to be a regular part of our lives. Such change affects how we think about ourselves, our place in the world, and our place in history. Will we ever again experience a time when we can fall asleep for hundreds of years, wake up, and immediately recognize the way that people are generally living as similar to when we fell asleep? Or are we facing a world where we must continually evaluate and redefine our identities, in the same way that our delivery man had to when he woke up in 1940?

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian

What will our lives look like if, after the twists and turns we have experienced over the last hundred years or so, we ever do find ourselves back on a straight stretch of history? Share your thoughts in the Comments section.

*I am paraphrasing this thought experiment from an interview I heard a few years ago with Robert J. Gordon on a Planet Money episode on NPR: https://www.npr.org/transcripts/529178937.

Suggested Reading:

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The Antiques Roadshow is coming to Westborough for book lovers!

Well, close enough. On Monday, May 24, 7:00 – 8:30 p.m., Ken Gloss of the famous Brattle Book Shop in Boston will present, “The Adventure of Book Collecting,” via Zoom. Gloss will discuss book collecting—what makes a book valuable and which authors to look for.  A frequent guest appraiser on PBS’ Antiques Roadshow, he will describe the joys of the “hunt,” plus guidelines for starting a collection.

If you would like Gloss to appraise one of your books, please submit a photo and description of the book plus your mobile number before Friday, May 21, to info@brattlebookshop.com. During the program, Mr. Gloss will select books to appraise that illustrate important characteristics and will appraise all others privately.

You must register in advance for this meeting: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUofu2rqzguGNAS0be1515oAklELeV3y5be.

This program is co-sponsored by both the Westborough Historical Society and the Westborough Public Library Center for History and Culture.

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The Westborough Public Library is revising its strategic plan for 2021-2023. Help us out by taking this short survey and giving us your feedback: http://tinyurl.com/wplsurvey2021. Your input will help us plan future services, classes and events.

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Did you enjoy reading this Westborough Local History Pastimes newsletter? Then subscribe by e-mail and have the newsletter and other notices from the Westborough Center for History and Culture at the Westborough Public Library delivered directly to your e-mail inbox: https://www.westboroughcenter.org/subscribe-to-updates/.